ARSENAL TWICE came from behind to defeat Aston Villa with a performance that encapsulated both the good and the bad of Unai Emery’s side, writes John Portch at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners’ defensive frailties were on full show and, once again, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got his side out of jail with a moment of brilliance.
His late free-kick delivered the three points but there was considerable angst around the Emirates as the fourth official, Keith Stroud, indicated a minimum five extra minutes.
An entertaining encounter was preceded by the surprise of seeing Bukayo Saka’s name in the Arsenal starting line-up after his exploits in Frankfurt on Thursday evening.
By the same token, there was trepidation for those of an Arsenal persuasion in seeing Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac line-up as the full-backs in a four-man defence.
Neither offers much defensive security and the returns to action of Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney cannot come soon enough.
In mitigation, Maitland-Niles is not a full-back, but his slack marking enabled when Anwar El Ghazi cut inside on to his right foot and curl in a cross that seemed innocuous enough until John McGinn appeared and flicked the ball beyond Bernd Leno as the men in red and white shirts stood looking accusingly at each other.
The error was compounded when five minutes before half-time Maitland-Niles received a second yellow card.
Nicolas Pepe’s equaliser just before the hour came from the penalty spot after Bjorn Engels felled Matteo Guendouzi.
The Ivorian struck his effort down the middle to claim his first goal for the Gunners; not that he had much time to celebrate.
Two minutes later Wesley Moraes applied the finishing touch to Jack Grealish’s cutback following a darting run deep into Arsenal territory.
It was an appalling concession but no less than Villa deserved and manager Dean Smith can be satisfied with the manner in which they set about opponents with Champions League aspirations.
Aspirations, of course, are not necessarily matched by ability and there are times when Arsenal’s midfield feels like a wasteland, offering minimal presence and scant defensive security. At other times, they can take a game by the scruff of the neck.
Granit Xhaka, who covered at right-back in Maitland-Niles’ absence, posted another haphazard performance and was eventually hooked.
Once again, Mesut Ozil remained on the bench.
Saka can consider himself unfortunate at having to make way at the interval but his replacement, Calum Chambers, would eventually claim his side’s second equaliser.
The defender was in an advanced position following an Arsenal attack and reacted quickest as Tyrone Mings struggled to clear the ball. An opportunist poke of his right foot restored parity.
This time Arsenal held Villa off, kept up the pressure, and claimed the winner courtesy of Aubameyang’s stunning free-kick, which bamboozled Villa’s poorly positioned wall on its journey past goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
Exhilarating stuff, no question, but Arsenal cannot rely on outgunning opponents every week.